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Meet the American Boas

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If I say “boa,” you probably picture the tropical rain forests of South America, where the poster boy of the Boidae family, Boa constrictor, slithers through the brush. Your mind probably doesn’t leap to Los Angeles County or Colorado’s desert, but you’ll find boas there, too. The United States actually has two native boa species, the rubber boa (Charina bottae) and the rosy boa (Lichanura trivirgata), above. Their combined ranges cover much of the American west, from southern California up to Washington state, and from the Pacific coast east into Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. The rubber boa even crosses the Canadian border into British Columbia, making it the most northerly member of the family. 

Rubber and rosy boas are smaller than their Central and South American cousins, usually growing no longer than 3 or 4 feet (Boa constrictor can reach up to 13 feet) and only as wide around as a golf ball. They’re also slower and more docile than the other members of the family. Rather than hissing and striking when confronted by larger predators or humans, they’ll roll themselves into tight balls, with their head protected in the center. Sometimes the rubber boa will also try to confuse its attacker by striking out with its blunt tail to further draw attention from its head and body. 

While not as impressive in size or ferocity, the American boas are formidable hunters, and kill their prey using the same method as other boas: constriction. Hunting at night when small mammals like mice, rats, shrews and voles are more active, the American boas lie in wait and then ambush prey when it gets too close. Striking quickly, they secure their meal with sharp, tiny teeth, curl around it and squeeze until it suffocates. While hunting, the rubber boa again makes use of its tail as a decoy. It slithers into rodent burrows and offers its tail to any protective parent that tries to attack while leaving the head free to consume the nesting young. 

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Big Questions
Do Cats Fart?
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Certain philosophical questions can invade even the most disciplined of minds. Do aliens exist? Can a soul ever be measured? Do cats fart?

While the latter may not have weighed heavily on some of history’s great brains, it’s certainly no less deserving of an answer. And in contrast to existential queries, there’s a pretty definitive response: Yes, they do. We just don’t really hear it.

According to veterinarians who have realized their job sometimes involves answering inane questions about animals passing gas, cats have all the biological hardware necessary for a fart: a gastrointestinal system and an anus. When excess air builds up as a result of gulping breaths or gut bacteria, a pungent cloud will be released from their rear ends. Smell a kitten’s butt sometime and you’ll walk away convinced that cats fart.

The discretion, or lack of audible farts, is probably due to the fact that cats don’t gulp their food like dogs do, leading to less air accumulating in their digestive tract.

So, yes, cats do fart. But they do it with the same grace and stealth they use to approach everything else. Think about that the next time you blame the dog.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
Squirrels Are Probably More Organized Than You, Study Finds
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Despite having a brain that's slightly bigger than the size of a peanut M&M, squirrels have a fascinating, razor-sharp instinct when it comes to survival. They know that acorns that are high in fat and sprout late are perfect for long-term storage, so they salvage them for winter and eat the less nutritionally dense white-oak acorns right away. They also tend to remember where they put their acorn stash rather than relying solely on smell. Like nature's perfect stunt performer, they can even fall out of trees in a way that minimizes physical damage. Now, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have unveiled a newly discovered part of a squirrel's hoarding strategy, Atlas Obscura reports.

The researchers tracked 45 wild fox squirrels on the UC-Berkeley campus for nearly two years. They made available to the squirrels four different types of nuts—walnuts, pecans, almonds, and hazelnuts. Sometimes the animals were given a single type of nut, and other times the nuts were mixed. Either way, the squirrels promptly sorted and stored their food according to type—walnuts went in one hiding place, almonds in another, and so on.

This type of behavior is known as "chunking" and makes it easier to retrieve data in memory. In doing this, a squirrel won't have to visit several different places looking for pecans: They know just where the main supply is. Squirrels can stockpile up to 10,000 nuts a year, so it's essential for them to know which type of nut is where.

The study, published in Royal Society Open Science, also indicated that squirrels seem to understand nuts have weight, choosing to carry heavier acquisitions to a different location than lighter nuts.

Squirrels being squirrels, they were happy to be gifted an assortment of nuts during the experiment, but there was one wrinkle: Rather than stash them away, sometimes they'd just eat them on the spot.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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